Do you really like Pinot Noir? I was asked at a party recently. At first I thought it was an odd question as I’ve been tasting and writing about Pinot Noir – and particularly Oregon Pinot Noir – since the mid-1980s. My immediate response was “of course I really like Pinot Noir. Would I write and review and score those wines if I didn’t like the grape?”
And yet on further consideration it’s a fair question. Do I like every grape, every blend, every wine from everywhere equally? Of course I do not. I have my favorites like anyone else. But Pinot Noir is special to me, partly because I live so close to some of the greatest Pinot producers in the world, partly because it is by general acclaim one of the world’s most challenging grapes to grow and wines to make.
Some types of wine, good as they may be, are relatively easy to judge. Pinot Noir is not one of those. It’s flighty, variable, deceptive, even cantankerous; yet also elegant, expressive, versatile and particularly able to reflect and display terroir. In my experience it takes a long time and many thousands of bottles to really understand the grape, to appreciate its purity and dissect its variable styles.
If you already love Pinot Noir you probably agree with all of the above. If you are ambivalent about the wines I would urge you to explore more widely. Find opportunities to taste Pinot Noir from New Zealand, Italy, Germany, California, Oregon and of course Burgundy and see if there isn’t a place and a style that really rings your flavor bell.
You may find some pretty decent bottles for around $20, although quality rises with cost (up to a point). The most rare and collectible Pinots are priced accordingly; they are almost always very good, but so are a lot of wines costing far less.
In my recent tastings of current releases from Oregon I have found more than a few that represent the grape well without destroying your wallet. Here are some to get you started, beginning with three from Day Wines.
Day 2022 Vin de Days Rouge
Fresh and juicy, with appealing texture and a wet stone minerality, this light and elegant Pinot Noir is a springtime joy. The fruit hits raspberries square on, the 8% Pinot Meunier brings a bit of tannic gravitas, and there is a lovely buoyancy to the mouthfeel that simply demands another glass. 13%; $27 (Willamette Valley) 92/100
Day 2021 Deep Blue Pinot Noir
This is a meaty, substantial wine, clean and seemingly unencumbered by new oak. The fruit really shines here, bright flavors of berry and cherry, with ample acids to set them off. The finish resonates with a streak of cherry cola – [cue the Kinks: C-O-L-A cola] – that lingers like the chorus of an old song. Simply delicious. 13%; $35 (Willamette Valley) 93/100
Day 2021 Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir
This biodynamically farmed site is a favorite of Brianne Day, and she’s made a Johan designate Pinot Noir for at least the past half decade. Beetroot, lemon rind, dried herbs, pomegranate and rhubarb come to mind, but the flavors are so complex and integrated that picking out threads defeats the purpose, which is harmony and balance. This tart and tongue-teasing wine should be given a few more years of bottle age for it to really shine, but all the right stuff is there for a long life ahead. 13.3%; $48 (Van Duzer Corridor) 93/100
In the near future I will post extensive profiles of current releases from other leading Pinot producers, notably Domaine Divio and Patricia Green. Many wines from their extensive portfolios will be released over the next few months, so keep checking their websites for specific release dates. Here’s a quick preview of a pair of fine values from Bruno Corneaux at Domaine Divio.
Domaine Divio 2021 Les Climats Pinot Noir
This is an aromatic blend of berries, from raspberries to blueberries to marionberries and more; the flavors go on and on and on. There’s a satiny quality to the finish, which brings in lovely accents of milk chocolate and butter pecan. The polished tannins add a hint of black olive, along with an umami-inflected savory note. 13.2%; $30 (Willamette Valley) 93/100
Domaine Divio 2021 Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir
Let’s call this the reserve version of the winery’s Les Climats bottling, sourced from a variety of vineyards. It’s tight, tannic, steely and dense, with compact blackberry and black cherry fruits. You’ll want to give this plenty of time to unpack. Recommended drinking window is 2025 to 2035. 13.5%; $45 (Willamette Valley) 93/100
To conclude, here are a few more highly recommended wines from each of several different producers – most priced at $40 and under.
Brick House 2021 Select Pinot Noir
This brings high-toned, sharply-defined raspberry/cherry fruit. Cherry candy flavors fill the mid-palate, leading into slightly astringent, earthy tannins. As the wines breathes open you’ll find hibiscus, chamomile, lemon verbena and a slew of botanical highlights lifting a compelling finish. 12.5%; $42 (Ribbon Ridge) 92/100
Dion 2021 Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir
If I were to choose a mid-priced Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to show a visitor from, say, California, how good these wines are… this would be a fine option. It’s forward, fruit-packed, varietally pure, palate-soaking and long. There’s a mix of plummy fruit, balancing acids, natural vitality and sleek tannins. It’s a harmonious wine, instantly enjoyable (with a screw cap for safety) yet built for up to a decade of cellaring. 13.2%; $35 (Laurelwood District) 92/100
Paul O’Brien 2021 Pinot Noir
Fermented with one quarter whole clusters, this has a spicy lift to the red fruits that populate the mid-palate. It was fermented in a mix of stainless and concrete, then aged in one quarter new French oak. Still young and chewy, it’s sure to improve with a few more years of bottle age. The Diam closure ensures that you won’t run into any cork issues. 1194 cases; 13.5%; $32 (Umpqua Valley) 92/100
Project M 2021 Personify Pinot Noir
This is winemaker Jerry Murray’s blend from barrels not used in his single vineyard selections. It’s aromatic with a pleasing mix of blackberry and black cherry fruit. Substantial tannins keep it focused and firm, with nice dark streaks of coffee. 120 cases; 13.6%; $40 (Willamette Valley) 91/100
Rambeaux 2021 Pinot Noir
Dusky Goose’s lower-priced Rambeaux wines are a fine introduction to the portfolio, and this is the first vintage for new winemaker Hans Van Dale, working alongside consulting winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash. It’s an elegant, forward, aromatic wine with instant appeal. The scents of Pinot are pure and clear, leading into flavors of ripe berries and plums. Aging in 20% new barrels adds nice touches of toast and tobacco, and the wine glides across the palate as if giving you a come hither wink that invites the next sip. 530 cases; 14%; $40 (Willamette Valley) 92/100
Torii Mor 2021 Black Label Pinot Noir
This is loaded with blueberries, blackberries and currant fruit, underscored with tangy citrus. There are lighter veins of espresso, toasted walnuts and clean earth, with tongue-scraping acids. The overall balance is on point despite the very recent bottling, and the compact flavors suggest that there will be a further evolution over the next decade or longer. 3435 cases; 13.5%; $30 (Willamette Valley) 92/100